The Marks of A Healthy Church-Part Four
February 18, 2007 | Randy Smith
The Marks Of A Healthy Church - Part Four1 Timothy 3:15
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith
Earlier this week I went with a few brothers from the church to a New Jersey Nets game. Intending to watch some quality basketball, I found it hard to focus on the game distracted by the never-ending blitz of marketing tactics. There were video clips on the jumbo screen, free "give aways," flashing lights, dancing girls and indoor fireworks. They even had the audacity to pipe in fan noise on the loud speaker to create an atmosphere that was filled with energy and excitement. It was easy to lose the actual game of basketball in the midst of all the additives.
Many churches today have resorted to the same gimmicks. They believe their product needs to be "spruced-up" in order to make it more attractive and more appealing. Unfortunately the opposite occurs. Slowly the true meaning of the church gets lost in all the hype. The true believers leave and other people start coming out for the wrong reasons.
The Commissioner of the NBA and Creator of the church obviously have two different philosophies. One needs to resort to marketing strategies to sell his product; the Other stands by the integrity of His product alone and knows that any artificial additives will only detract from His product's attractiveness.
Because it is essential that we follow God's blueprint for the church, we have discussed over the past three weeks the marks of a healthy church as they are revealed in Scripture. When God's people conduct ministry God's way, the church has the potential to be the premier institution this side of heaven. Yet when we do ministry man's way the true meaning of the church gets lost and we become just another community competing in the pantheon of secular interest. Which way should we go? Are we going to scratch every itch of carnal desire or are we going to search every inch of Holy Scripture? Do it man's way and we become just speck in time - here today, gone tomorrow. Follow God's way and we become a foretaste of eternity.
As of now we have covered eight marks of a God-honoring church. This morning, as the Lord permits, we conclude with the final three.
1. DESIRE TO PRAY
The ninth mark of a healthy church is prayer.
Leonard Ravenhill remarked, "The true church lives and moves and has its being in prayer." Another commented, "The marks of a strong church are wet eyes, bent knees, and a broken heart."
Without prayer, our communication with God, we are nothing. Without prayer we cannot expect His blessings. Without prayer says the Scripture we "do not have' (Jas. 4:2). Jesus said, "Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full" (Jn. 16:24).
We at the Grace Tabernacle believe God has commanded us to pray. We believe God answers prayer. We believe God uses prayer to change us. We believe prayer expresses our humble dependence upon God. We believe prayer is the key to unlock the greatest spiritual blessings. Therefore we believe every individual of this church should be devoted to personal prayer, and we as a church should be devoted to praying together as much as possible.
For this reason we have set aside Tuesday morning for our ladies prayer session, Wednesday evening for church-wide prayer and every Sunday morning for our "boiler room" prayer meeting to pray for the service simultaneously while it is being conducted.
Scheduled group prayer meetings communicate to God how seriously we take this discipline. Please be involved!
2. WILLINGNESS TO PRACTICE THE CHURCH ORDINANCES
Though the ninth mark regarding prayer deserves a whole series, I have chosen to move on.
The tenth mark of a true church is a willingness to practice the two biblical ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as they are given to us by Jesus in the Scriptures.
Any questions? Good, let's continue.
(Either this last point is going to be rather lengthy or we're getting out of here early this morning - I think you know the answer to that one!)
3. DEDICATION TO CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
Lastly, the eleventh mark of a healthy church is a commitment to membership.
Two weeks ago we are very pleased to induct 17 new members into this church. There is a place for formal church membership, but when I am talking about membership here, I am primarily speaking about fulfilling the biblical requirements expected of every believer more than signing on a dotted line and being entered into a ledger.
I hope all of you will officially become members of the Grace Tabernacle, but I would rather have a non-member committed to this church than a member in the formal sense that is sitting on the sidelines. So as we camp-out on this final mark of a healthy church, please keep in mind that the context of these comments is not formal membership per se, but the biblical expectations that God places upon each one of us pertaining to our relationship to this local church.
I believe in our society of individualism and lone-rangerism and commitment phobiaism (I'm making up some words here), we have completely lost our understanding of community and with it, this aspect of a healthy church. The Bible knows nothing of a solitary religion. We fail to realize that when we were saved we were saved to be part of the Lord's body. With Jesus functioning as our head, we are distinct body parts yet fully united with one other. We are called to depend on each other and strive together in a common purpose as we receive our marching orders from our common Head.
We read in Scripture, "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Because we are one body mutually dependent on each other the text goes on to say, "(There should) be no division in the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:25-26).
We need to pray that God will rekindle in our hearts a love for the local church, an understanding of our responsibilities and a commitment to fulfill them faithfully.
Listen to what the Dutch theologian, R.B. Kuiper said nearly a hundred years ago in his book, The Glorious Body of Christ: "It is clear that in the days of the apostles, it was the universal practice to receive believers into the visible church. It's possible that a true believer, because of some unusual circumstances, may fail to unite with the church. One may, for instance, believe in Christ and die before receiving baptism, or joining a local church. But such instances are exceptional. The Scriptural rule is that while membership is not a prerequisite for salvation, it is a necessary consequence of salvation" (p. 112-113).
More recently Robert Saucy said, "The follower of Jesus Christ cannot profess allegiance to Him and deny His church. What is needed far more than denunciations is…renewed effort to seek God's ways in which one may be a part of the building process" (The Church in God's Program, p. 7).
Search the Scriptures for yourself. You will see the word "church" used roughly 100 times in the New Testament with 90% of them being clear references to the local church. You will see God's unmistakable statements to the fact that identification with His people in a formal, public way was considered essential in both Old and New Testament times. You will see in Acts when the Lord saves people He Himself is said to add them to His church (Ac. 2:47). You will see the New Testament does not reveal even a hint of any believer who was truly saved, but not part of a local church. And you will see that being a part of God's church carries with it many responsibilities, that when unfulfilled, both you and the corporate church suffer.
Are you aware of these responsibilities? Are you taking these responsibilities seriously? I believe most of you are, but let's find out as we cover five of our Lord's commands regarding church membership.
The first one is a commitment to pray for the church.
Do you know what you should be praying for? Here are some examples: Pray for the sick, our evangelistic efforts, our missionaries, direction, the leaders, grateful hearts, peace, the teaching, faithfulness of the people, specific ministries, perseverance, our givings, spiritual growth and unity.
How are you doing in this area?
Martin Luther said, "To gather with God's people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer. The second responsibility of members is attendance.
The ultimate support is from Scripture: "(Do not forsake your) own assembling together, as is the habit of some" (Heb. 10:25). Because as sheep we are so prone to wander, God knows we need each other. God knows we need to regularly sit under the preaching of His Word. God knows that if we get apart from the flock, we are vulnerable to predators of every sort. Therefore God has commanded us to live our Christian life in the company of other believers.
Additional support for attendance can also be drawn from a logical argument as well. If the church is the closest thing to heaven in this life and we all desire to spend eternity in heaven, shouldn't we desire to be at the church? I mean, if we don't like learning about God, worshipping God and fellowshipping in the company of other believers, we are going to be very disappointed in heaven. Moreover if we don't desire these things here, there is a tragic possibility our mind has not been renewed to desire the things above.
If you are a Christian, you are a sheep in God's flock, a stone in God's temple, a member in God's body, a branch in God's vine and a child in God's family. You are not permitted to be a maverick. You have been called to be part of a group.
Yet there is an epidemic today. I often hear about churches with say 200 people on the membership roll, but a weekly attendance of 25 in the pews. Where ate the other 175? Obviously we need reasonable vacations and there are times when we are sick, but how professing Christians can be indifferent to meeting with other believers and even go so far to compromise attendance for avoidable activities on the Lord's Day completely baffles my imagination.
Along these lines, Alan Redpath did some research regarding membership in the average American church and concluded: "5 percent don't exist, 10 percent can't be found, 25 percent don't attend (at all), 50 percent (never) show up on Sunday, 75 percent don't attend the prayer meeting" (Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, p. 173).
The statistic I would love to see would be the correlation between church attendance and spiritual maturity. I am not attempting to be legalistic in any way, but I believe there is a direct connection between faithful attendance and Christian maturity. I have nothing scientific to present, but there is no doubt in my mind that those who attend most faithfully are those who are demonstrating the most vibrant and mature faith. Is it their faithful attendance that is producing maturity? Or is it their maturity that moves them to attend faithfully? I believe it is a combination of both as one builds upon the other.
Listen to what one pastor said about those who remain absent from the regular gathering: "Nonattendance, in the early years of our church, was considered one of the most sinister of sins, because it usually veiled all the other sins. When someone began to be in sin, you would expect them to stop attending" (Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, p. 171).
Another one said, "An avoidable absence from church is an infallible evidence of spiritual decay" (Frances Ridley Havergal).
Once again I do not come with statistical support, but in my ten years as a full-time pastor I am fully persuaded that when someone fails to attend church on a regular basis there is usually spiritual atrophy occurring in his or her heart. Again, not being legalistic, but church attendance is usually a good barometer of one's spiritual health.
In addition to attendance, another responsibility of church membership is the financial support of the ministry.
Now I know this is the topic that often makes us most uncomfortable. I know the abuses that have occurred throughout church history, but Jesus spent much time on this issue and in order for our church to be healthy, we too must devote our attention to it.
Let's be honest, my friends, it takes money for a church to function. We have missionaries to support, curriculum to buy, salaries to pay and bills to settle. And although I would love to see God rain the money from heaven, He has chosen to use the sacrifice of his people to support His work. I believe He has chosen to do it this way to allow us to prove for ourselves how much we are really behind the building of His church and the extension of His kingdom. How much we give to this cause reveals the true priorities of our heart.
Though our flesh fights with liberal giving, the Scriptures give us many reasons why we will be blessed. As a matter of fact, they basically say we are foolish for not giving more than we do. Consider a few passages with me.
Malachi 3:10, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the Lord of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows." Though we are commonly commanded to not test God (Mt. 4:7), this time we are called to test Him with our giving to experience the fullness of His blessing.
Matthew 6:19-21, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Spending money on the things of this world produces temporary treasures. Spending money on the things above produces treasures that will last forever. What kind of treasures do you want?
Philippians 4:17, after receiving a financial contribution from the church Paul said, "Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account." Once again the reinforcement. God uses your gift for His purposes, but as you give, He credits eternal blessings to your heavenly account.
My friends, it comes down to one thing - faith! How we give will determine how much we believe these promises from God. You will devote your money to the things that you feel are important and the things that make you the happiest. Bottom line: Our checkbook says a lot about who we are!
On a personal note: I am so thankful for the way God through this church has supported my family. I am also grateful that we have been able to pay every bill as a church and finish last year above budget. But I also believe there is so much more we could do if each person who attends this church could by faith dig a little deeper.
For example, I would love to see us being able to finance more missionaries. For only $4,000 a year, we are able to support a full-time pastor doctrinally likeminded to us in Armenia. Overall, the potential for additional ministry whereby more lives can be impacted is endless.
A fourth calling for responsible members is serving.
Let's remember that all our money is really God's money. In the same way our talents and time also belong to God as well. So as we are to offer our finances for God's usage, the Bible also commands us to offer our time and talents for God's usage as well.
1 Peter 4:10, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." This is what spiritual service is all about. It is presenting ourselves to God and allowing Him to work through us whereby He might accomplish His eternal purposes.
Just as the church has financial needs that responsible members should meet, the church has physical needs that responsible members should meet as well. Are we imitating the selflessness of our Savior when we just sit back, benefit greatly from the work of others and refuse to cooperate by playing our part?
In his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man, Kent Hughes said, "Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker's thumb says, 'You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas--and I'll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I'll probably sue.' So it is with the credo of so many of today's church attenders: 'You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills - and I'll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I'll complain and probably bail out - my thumb is always out for a better ride'" (p. 159-160).
Listen, God wants you to be a good steward of the gifts and talents He has blessed you with (He gave them to you for a reason!). God wants you to realize that you are a needed part in this spiritual body and when you refuse to function all in the body suffer. God wants you to realize that serving in ministry with others is one of the finest ways to grow spiritually and build strong friendships. Ultimately, God wants you to realize that being used by the King of kings to build His eternal kingdom is the greatest privilege in the world!
A final mark this morning for healthy church membership is very much related to serving, but just a little more specific. When we consider serving, we often think of more formalized ministries. Yet each of us has a responsibility to regularly minister to each other with the love of Christ. In the Bible we often call these the "one-another" commands.
Amongst the 58 "one-another" commands is the call to love one another (Jn. 13:34-35), serve one another (Gal. 5:13), be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10), be of the same mind to one another (Rom. 12:16), restore one another (Gal. 6:1), bear the burdens of one another (Gal. 6:2), care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25-26), encourage one another (Heb. 3:13), stimulate one another to love and good deeds (1 Thes. 5:11), tolerate one another (Eph. 4:1-2), teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), confess our sins to one another (Jas. 5:16), not complain to one another (Rom. 15:7), accept one another (Rom. 15:7), greet one another (Rom. 16:16) and forgive one another (Eph. 4:32)
As we examine the Scripture, we see that all these "one-another" expectations are commands. Additionally, they are all in the "present tense" which denotes a continuous action. And they are all written to the local church. Therefore we as Christians and responsible church members must be around others, aware of their needs and prepared to meet those needs as the situation dictates. Bottom line once again, we need to minister to one another. We need to prefer one another. We need to convey an attitude that says, "You can count on me because your needs are greater than mine."
We covered a lot this morning about church membership.
Mark Dever in Nine Marks of a Healthy Church said, "Joining a church increases our sense of ownership of the work of the church, of its community, of its budget, of its goals. We move from being pampered consumers to becoming joyous proprietors. We stop…complaining that we don't get exactly what we want; instead we…try to help others with what they need. We must begin to view membership less as a loose affiliation useful only on occasion and more as a regular responsibility involving us in one another's lives for the purposes of the Gospel" (p. 143).
Wayne Mack in To Be or Not To Be a Church Member said, "It's easy to stand on the sidelines and find fault with the church's weaknesses, deficiencies and ineffectiveness; it's another thing to become involved in fixing the problem by becoming part of the solution. More dedication, more involvement, more prayer, more effort, more devotion, more service, and more humble cooperation and participation in the activities of the church are the appropriate responses to the situation" (p. 52).
What a place this church can become! We don't need marketing. We need God's Spirit to revive us whereby we might take seriously our role in the church to allow this place to become all that God intends.
We each must be committed to the eleven marks of a healthy church that we have covered the past four sermons. An insert of all of them (that would look beautiful attached to your refrigerator with a magnet) is included in your bulletin.
- Teaching the Bible
- Practicing church discipline
- Understanding the Gospel
- Engaging in discipleship
- Selecting biblically qualified leaders
- Abiding in sound doctrine
- Sharing the Gospel
- Understanding true conversion
- Fervent prayer
- Observing baptism and the Lord's Supper
- Responsible church membership
It is fair for you to ask the church if she has been faithful in fulfilling these marks, but at the same time it is also fair for the church to question you about your own faithfulness.
Oh that the Spirit of the living God would give us a desire to do ministry His way and like Jesus, have a great love for the Church (Ac. 20:28; Eph. 5:25).
I love Thy kingdom, Lord, the house of Thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved with His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God! Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye, and graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall; for her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv'n, till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy I prize her heav'nly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows, her hymns of love and praise.
Timothy Dwight - pastor from the 1800's